Perhaps even worse than being outright rejected by a university is to be put on its waiting list. Looking at past statistics, very few students are ever offered admission off the wait list. In fact, many admissions officers characterize a waitlist spot as essentially “a nicer way of being rejected.”
Despite the daunting numbers and one’s own disappointment, there are prescriptive steps that can be taken to substantially increase one’s chance of being accepted. CollegeVine is providing an insider guide on how to get off the wait list based on our own proven system.
1) Understand What a Waitlist Offer Means
If a student is waitlisted, it means that a school either feels the student is a good fit for the school but the school is constrained by class sizes, or that a school sees potential in the student but its still unsure if a student matches its profile. One’s goal when approaching the wait list is to demonstrate commitment (addressing option 1) as well as improvement since the application deadline (addressing option 2).
2) Respond Immediately to the Waitlist Offer
The wait list is a numbers game; students are accepted off of the list as colleges project their yields for the incoming class size and attempt to fill spots. Colleges are looking to accept its most competent students that are committed to ensure they fill their classes. If placed on multiple wait lists (especially at Ivy League schools), students should choose two schools to focus on.
3) Contact the Local Admissions Officer
Many guides on the Internet tell students to send in waitlist letters, letters of recommendation, etc., but the reality is admissions offices are already inundated with additional information and do not necessarily want more of yours. Each college is different, so students should specifically call the local admissions office and ask what is acceptable to send.
4) The Waitlist Letter
If the local admissions officer requests a waitlist letter (or a list of updated achievements), you have the go-ahead to send in your letter. The purpose of the waitlist letter is to (1) illustrate continued commitment, (2) indicate an increased level of competency since January, and (3) distinguish oneself from the other thousands of waitlist letters. The first part of the letter must demonstrate to schools that you are interested in being accepted off the wait list and, if accepted, will attend. You also want to introduce your updates in an eloquent manner.
Example of introduction for your letter:
Dear CollegeVine University Office of Undergraduate Admissions,
I would like to sincerely thank the CollegeVine Undergraduate Admissions Committee for taking the time to look through my application amongst the thousands of applicants and offering me an opportunity to be on the waiting list. CollegeVine University is still my dream school, and if accepted off the waitlist, I would happily attend. I would like to take this opportunity to display my continued interest in AHU and update the Admissions Committee on some of my accomplishments since applying.
The second part of the letter provides a series of updates (grouped together by topic) since applying in January. Do NOT repeat accomplishments or any information already on your application. Limit your updates to 2-3 topics and be sure to (1) explain briefly what the update is, (2) what level of accomplishment it illustrates, and (3) how it has contributed to your overall character/development. You also want to seem natural — maybe throw in a joke or two.
Example of update for one accomplishment:
I have also been making substantial progress on my research project for Intel ISEF. My project seeks to test whether statistical regression and neural networking can predict geo-political conflicts in developing nations. I have been developing an algorithm to analyze such patterns using a framework of a naïve Bayes classifier under the guidance of Mr. CollegeVine, the Technology General Manager at CollegeVine Tech LLC.
This project has completely changed my perceptions of the unique dynamics implicit in a complex geo-political struggle. Additionally, I have gained an even greater appreciation for computer science’s broad applicability to solve qualitative challenges, while feeding my lifelong curiosity about international relations. It would be nice if I could eventually achieve my goal of making basic predictions about such conflicts… I wouldn’t complain either if my program found itself in the CIA’s computer system one day.
The last part of the waitlist letter is meant to distinguish yourself from all the other applicants. At CollegeVine, we call this the humanizing factor. Essentially, you need to provide a funny/quirky update with the goal of putting a smile on the admissions officer’s face. After reading five hundred wait list letters, such a phrase can play heavily in your favor.
Example of humanizing factor:
Finally, I have stopped trying to beat my nine-year-old sister at Wii. Even as the captain of my school’s basketball team, I still lose miserably whenever she chooses to play me in the digital version. (Note that in this example, we assume we have updated the school above on our basketball accomplishments.)
Finally, your letter’s closing should reiterate your commitment to the school.
Example of closing:
AHU has distinguished itself as a top institution for CollegeVine, and I am continuously in awe as I read about its amazing work in helping students achieve their dreams. I would like to thank the Office of Undergraduate Admissions once again for reviewing my application, and I would eagerly matriculate if offered a position in the Class of 2018.
(Physically Sign Your Name Here)
5) The Additional Letter of Recommendation
If the local admissions officer is willing to accept an additional letter of recommendation, determine if you have a teacher that could provide another perspective to your application. Consider that you were waitlisted because your original application was not quite there; make sure this rec doesn’t just reiterate what you already have shown; it must add something.
Thus, students should avoid academic recommendation letters, unless the wait list was offered primarily because of poor academic performance in senior year. In that case, an academic recommendation letter that highlights one’s improvements in one class can serve as a powerful testament to one’s perseverance and capabilities.
An ideal recommendation letter, however, will speak to a new update since January (hopefully an update about something that was mentioned in the waitlist letter). For example, [Your Name] above should get a recommendation letter from Mr. CollegeVine highlighting [Your Name]’s diligence and ingenuity in developing the computer program.
6) Remain in Contact with the Local Admissions Officer
The key here is balance; you do not want to continuously call the office and annoy the admissions officers. You do, however, want to check up on all of your submitted materials, as well as ensure that there is nothing else that the office might want in evaluating your application. Call once, about a week after you submit the letter, making sure to restate your name and continued interest in the school.
Beyond these 6 steps, there is little else that can be done. Students should take solace in the fact that they were not completely rejected, but they should make alternative education plans as necessary in case the wait list process does not pan out. As always, reach out to CollegeVine if you would like our assistance, and we wish the best of luck to all applicants!
Looking for help getting off the wait list?
Our experienced editors will review your waitlist letter and offer specific feedback to help you send an amazing letter. Learn more about our waitlist letter service.
Zack was an economics major at Harvard before going on indefinite leave to pursue CollegeVine full-time as a founder. In his spare time, he enjoys closely following politics and binge-watching horror movies. To see Zack's full bio, visit the Team page.
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